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Many happy returns?

I didn’t get what I wanted for the holidays. Are stores required to accept my return? What if the store doesn’t have a return or exchange policy?

Most retailers offer refunds, store credit or exchanges when a consumer wants to return an item.

However, California law does not require retailers to offer refunds or exchanges, as long as they post a conspicuous notice informing customers of their policy.

Written policies must be in a language that consumers can understand, so that it can be easily seen and comprehended. The policy must be in a visible place, such as by the entrance of a store, the cash register, or on the actual merchandise. Merely printing the policy on the receipt does not meet the notice requirement.

Sellers are not required by law to accept returned items that are defective, perishable goods like food or flowers, merchandise that cannot be resold for health reasons, and merchandise conspicuously marked “all sales final,” “as is,” or with similar language. Also, retailers need not accept returns for sales of customized goods that were received as ordered, or goods not returned with their original packaging.

California law also has specific provisions for certain kinds of goods, like automobiles. Some transactions that seem like the “sale of goods” might not be, like purchasing games, music, movies or books from online stores.

Policies may cover whether a cash refund or store credit is given, or whether an exchange is allowed for the full amount of the purchase price. Policies may explain the period of time allowed for returns or exchanges, what kind of merchandise is covered, and any other conditions that may apply. The policy might include a restocking fee, or a requirement that the product be returned in its original packaging.

Stores may keep records, share information to outside companies, and alter their return policies for customers who make frequent returns. This practice is allowable as long as it’s in the written policy and that policy meets the notice requirements.

If a store doesn’t have a posted policy, in most cases you are entitled to a full refund or equal exchange within seven days of purchase, with your receipt. Don’t forget that unless it’s sold “as is,” most consumer goods have an implied warranty that the item is fit for its purpose, which lasts for 60 days from purchase.

Stores may change their policy at will, including during the holidays. Always check the store’s policy before you buy something that you may need to return.

Mary Luros is a business law attorney with Hudson & Luros, LLP, in Napa, and can be reached at or 418-5118. The information provided here is not intended as legal advice, nor does it form an attorney-client relationship with the author. The author makes no representations as to the reliability or accuracy of the above information. In a perfect world we wouldn’t need disclaimers — or attorneys.

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